The story of America’s $2.5 gold Indian, also known as the Pratt-Bigelow quarter eagle, is at its core, a story of two presidential cousins. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt were responsible for the inception and termination of the series. In a 1904 letter, Theodore Roosevelt called 19th-century US coinage “atrocious hideousness” and began his crusade to redesign all of America’s coins towards the end of his first term.
While it took congressional approval to change the designs of some denominations, the president had the authority to immediately order the redesign of the quarter eagle, the half eagle, the eagle, and the double eagle. When the famed Saint-Gaudens design debuted in 1907, the United States Mint was operating under the assumption that the smaller half and quarter eagle denominations would simply be scaled-down versions of the double eagle. Charles Barber quickly ran into trouble trying to include all the necessary legends on such a small planchet. This necessitated a complete redesign, and opened the door for the president’s friend, Dr. William Bigelow, to suggest not only that the Mint work with Boston sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt but also that the coins bear an incuse design.
However, like many of the nation’s coins, the gold quarter eagle fell victim to the Great Depression. Due to the severe economic downturn in late 1929, the US Mint suspended production of all gold coins. While there might have been plans to resume production when the economy recovered, 1929 proved to be the last year of production for this denomination. This was due to Executive Order 6102, which halted the production of gold coins and also prohibited the “hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States”.
Due to the Great Depression, many of the 1929 quarter eagles were not released to the public and few entered into circulation. When coupled with the fact that many gold coins were melted in the 1930s because of Executive Order 6102, the total surviving population of the 1929 quarter eagle is much smaller than the original mintage.
The 1929 Quarter Eagle in Today’s Market
Despite having an average mintage, the 1929 is a major conditional rarity for the quarter eagle series. PCGS and NGC collectively have graded only seven examples as MS 66, and this is surely an over-count. This is highly likely because only a few years ago, experts like Jeff Garrett, David Hall, and David Akers all state that only a very limited number (less than seven) of examples survive in anything above MS 65. As such, all are quite valuable, with MS 66 pieces selling for seven to 10 times as much as the much more common MS 65. In fact, while the average MS 65 sells for between $4,000 and $6,500, the auction record of $54,625, set in the Heritage Auctions March 2010 sale, is held by a spectacular MS 66.
While there are 578 total pieces graded MS 65 by PCGS and NGC, in just one grade lower there are over 5,300. This dramatic jump in population is mirrored by a corresponding drop in price. During the past two years, the average price for a MS 64 quarter eagle has stood at just under $900, or between five to six times less than an MS 65. Dropping down in grade again, MS 62-63 examples can command prices between $500 and $750.
In high AU (AU 53 – 58), collectors can reliably find examples at auction for between $400 to $500. With very few examples recorded in grades below AU 50, all lower grades are only worth a slight premium over melt, and as such sell for approximately $250. As of publication, the quarter eagle contains roughly $223 of gold bullion.
As the first and only incuse US coin design, the Indian Head obverse design is set into the surface of the coin. The design is centered around a lifelike portrayal of Chief Hollow Horn Bear of the Sioux. As a departure from previous depictions of anglicized Native American figures on US coinage, this is the first realistic depiction of a Native American chief. The left-facing bust wears a traditional feathered headdress. Filling almost the entire obverse field, the bust is flanked by 13 five-pointed stars representing the 13 original US colonies.
At the top of the design is the legend “LIBERTY” and at the bottom is the date (1929). Between the date and bottom of the bust are the designers’ initials “BLP”.
The quarter eagle reverse features a bald eagle perched with folded wings holding a stylized bundle of arrows wrapped with an olive branch in its talons. The eagle was based on the reverse of Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural medal designed by Pratt’s mentor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
The denomination (2 ½ DOLLARS) is directly below the arrows, and the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is above. The Eagle is flanked by the mottos IN GOD WE TRUST on the right field and E PLURIBUS UNUM in the left field.
The edge of the 1929 quarter eagle is reeded.
Born on December 11, 1867, it became apparent quite early in life that Bela Lyon Pratt was quite a talented artist and sculptor. At the young age of 16, he enrolled at the Yale University School of Fine Art. Later, while attending the Art Students League of New York, Pratt studied under American sculptor and coin designer Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was to prove instrumental in his career. While never an official Mint employee, Pratt worked with Mint staff to design the new $2.5 and $5 gold coins as a pet project for President Theodore Roosevelt. However, Pratt would never work with the Mint again, returning instead to a highly successful private art career.
|Year Of Issue:||1929|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||90% Gold, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||Bela Lyon Pratt|
|REV Designer||Bela Lyon Pratt|